Albert Dumont, “South Wind”, is a Poet, Storyteller, Speaker, and an Algonquin Traditional Teacher. He was born in traditional Algonquin Territory (Kitigan Zibi). Albert has dedicated his life to promoting Indigenous spirituality and healing and to protecting the rights of Indigenous peoples, particularly the young.
The springtime of your life begins with your first breath of life being taken as a helpless newborn baby and then travels onward to those relatively carefree preteen years of early childhood. And on the journey goes into those often rebellious, formative teenage years and with that the springtime of your life comes to a close. It is hoped by the Creator that all of us will come to taste and savour the four seasons of life. Spring, for human beings is their time of discovery and the seeking out of life-altering experiences.
The springtime of my own life contains memories I should not have to be burdened with in my 70th year of life but still the past often returns to haunt me. ‘Racism’ is such an ugly thing to experience.
I recall very vividly at age 10 that the seeds of the dysfunction which came into full fruition in my early teen years, were sown in a poisonous soil farmed by people with hate-filled hearts. At 10, I had a clear appreciation of what defines ‘justice’. I saw it through the lens of an Algonquin child trying to find normalcy in a world where all people of the village I lived in, aside from my family, were all white people. Thank goodness that most of the people of the community were open-minded and accommodating but sadly, there were others too, who would have preferred that we had chosen to live elsewhere after my family left the Algonquin reserve of Kitigan Zibi in 1956. Some of them shouted, “Go back where you came from, you damn Indians,” when my father was away at his worksite. In school, I quickly noticed that children of a different skin colour than mine seemed to be more entitled to being treated fairly than I was. The ‘strap’ stung my hands on far too many occasions where the white child guilty of misdeeds was only warned of it. I didn’t like being treated unfairly nor was I happy about the way history books portrayed my ancestors so I, at 10 years of age, rebelled with much fury. Let there be no doubt, for a while I was out of control! I had no ‘elder’ or spiritual advisor to turn to, I had no role model to guide my way. I learned at that time that the bite of racism sinks ever deeper into the soul when you are defenceless against it and that its wound can fester, following you even into the winter of your time.
Today, because I am acutely aware of the emotional upset which can occur for a human being, taking his/her first steps as a curious and adventure seeking teen, I take action when I can. I go into classrooms of 10, 11 and 12-year old students bringing teachings and stories with me I know will prepare these youngsters for their fast-approaching teenage years. Our preteen young people need to be emotionally and spiritually equipped to say ‘no’ to things destructive to their health and wellbeing. They must be taught in a good way, that addictions to alcohol, drugs and other vices can begin in the life of a 14 or 15-year old.
There’s a story I tell them, a memory of mine from the summer of 1960 when I was 10 years old. The mischievous spirit alive in many boys of that age came to its fore on a day which found me bored silly. A trick, I thought, would break the boredom. I tied one end of a short piece of string to a bright red apple and tightly secured the other end of it to a branch of the small oak tree which stood perhaps 20 feet from the front door of my grandparents’ house in Maniwaki, Québec. My plan was that my grandparents would believe the apple had somehow, miraculously grown on their little oak tree while the hours of the night were passing by. The trick fooled my grandpa who actually believed upon seeing the apple on the branch of the oak that ‘God’ had placed it there as some kind of sacred sign for him alone. My grandmother though knew immediately that a trick was being played on them by a mischievous boy. I learned that it was impossible to fool my grandmother.
I tell the story of the apple and the oak tree to preteen children to make a point. Sure as there is life on the distant hills and sure as death will someday claim all of us, there will come a time when someone will try and fool a child after their teen years begin. If you are not ready for alcohol, drugs, cigarettes or activities against your morals and principles, “Please,” I tell kids, “don’t let anyone fool you into believing that you are ready.” I tell the children not to be like my grandpa who could be fooled into believing that an apple could grow on the branch of an oak tree. “Be like my grandma,” I say, “she could not be fooled.” Children learn from stories, especially Indigenous children, it’s our way, storytelling is embedded deep into our ancient culture.
I’m a person who very much appreciates that the memories of the family line, the good and the bad, should be carefully compiled and stored away. There is no doubt that these sacred family archives will be looked upon as the greatest of treasures to our generations not yet born. How I wish I could read journals, letters, poems and memories experienced and written by my grandparents whom I knew and loved and even their grandparents whose faces I have never even seen and get to know them intimately by doing so. In my family no such records exist. My grandparents were not educated people. So far as I am aware, there are no letters written by them to their children, no recorded view, no poem telling of joys or heartache they saw and survived. I dearly wish there was!
I think sometimes of my granddaughter Kyrstin, the oldest of my five grandchildren. She had academic learning difficulties and struggled as a student. By and by in the classroom and in the schoolyard, she was confronted with racism. Name calling from ignorant students and comments from teachers such as the one who said, while focusing his gaze upon my granddaughter, “We all know who got the lowest grade in the class,” after announcing to the students the name of the pupil who secured the highest grade of the test he had prepared for his class. Such statements weren’t helpful to her and had a negative impact on her self-esteem. Still, Kyrstin persevered, pushing forward as well as possible under the circumstances. Her ability to self-motivate and embrace the pride she has in her people has served her well. Kyrstin is recognized today as a community leader, having recently won the ‘June Girvan Youth in Service Award’.
She is a gifted speaker who is much sought-after by groups and organizations for her perspectives on the health and wellbeing of citizens of her age group.
It is my hope that she will document her experiences for instalment into the family archives. She might have had problems with reading and writing as a grade school student but she shines today academically and has a special way with words. I am so very proud of her.
I close by making a heartfelt request. On September 30, Orange Shirt Day, I ask that you dedicate at least an hour of your time towards doing something you see as taking a stand against racism. The dreadful and shameful ‘Indian Act’ is on its way out. The Residential Schools no longer exist. It’s time to heal.
by Albert Dumont